I hate waiting.

It doesn’t matter. Whether it’s for a great deal on shoes or my lunch in the microwave, it’s the worst.

But when it comes to the Christmas season, waiting is at the center of my family’s celebration.

As soon as we pull into the driveway from Thanksgiving vacation, the Christmas tree goes up. Throughout the next week, we slowly-but-surely unpack the rest of the boxes in the basement and scatter the house with decorations. Somewhere amidst the garland-wrapping, light-stringing, stocking-hanging mayhem, a little green wreath is placed in the center of the kitchen table.

This, lovely readers, is our Advent Wreath, and it’s far more important to me than any cookie recipe or present under the tree.

Advent is the name given to the period before Christmas, encompassing four Sundays. The observance of it is growing in popularity among the evangelical Christian community. My own church just began celebrating it this year, but my family has been observing it for as long as I can remember.

A typical wreath includes five candles: three purple and one pink with a white pillar candle in the center. The first candle, which is lit on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, is the candle of hope. The next Sunday, the candle of peace is lit. Next is the pink candle, the candle of joy, and then the candle of love on the Sunday before Christmas. The white candle in the center is lit on Christmas Day. Each night of the week, my family gathers around the table, lights the candle(s) for that week, and reads a short devotion. After this, we open one window on our Advent Calendar and sing a Christmas carol.

Advent, as I alluded to at the beginning, is a season of waiting. For the four weeks leading up to Christmas, my family crowds around our chipped, water-stained kitchen table and anticipates the birth of a baby born 2,000 years ago.

But it’s more than that. We’re also waiting for the hope He brings us, even during the hardest years when Christmas cheer seems hundreds of miles out of reach.

We’re waiting because we know someday He’s coming back, and we won’t have to “remember” anymore. We’ll just get to “see.” Emmanuel has come, and He’s coming again.

Christmas is meant to remind us that one night light came into the world through a dirty refugee in a cave that reeked of manure. Because of that seemingly insignificant event, the world changed forever. Now we don’t have to walk in darkness anymore, because no matter how cloudy our skies become, there is always hope.

The celebration of Advent keeps that at the forefront of my mind every single Christmas. It’s not about gifts, or stars, or cookies, or stockings. Even our pretty little painted nativity sets don’t tell the whole story. There’s so much more.

“O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”